August 01, 2008
A lesson for our own "Brain Drain"
Monsieur Obama's Tax Rates
July 1, 2008; Page A16
And speaking of tax rates (see here), celebrity chef Alain Ducasse changed his citizenship this month from high-tax France to no-income-tax Monaco. He says it wasn't a financial decision but an "affair of the heart." Of course. Nonetheless, plenty of other Frenchmen have moved abroad to escape their country's confiscatory taxes.
Americans should be so lucky: Ours is the only industrialized country that taxes its citizens even if they live overseas. That hasn't been a big problem as long as U.S. tax rates have been relatively low. But with Barack Obama promising to raise rates to French-like levels, this taxman-cometh policy could turn Americans into the world's foremost fiscal prisoners.
And make no mistake, taxes under a President Obama would be à la française. The top marginal tax rate on income – including federal, state and local income and payroll levies – could reach 60% for many self-employed New Yorkers and Californians. Not even France's taxes are that high now that President Nicolas Sarkozy has capped the total that high-earning Frenchmen like Mr. Ducasse can pay in income, social and wealth taxes at 50% of earnings.
Mr. Sarkozy set this "fiscal shield" because he knows that tax rates affect behavior. When he visited London this year, he observed that the British capital is now home to so many French bankers and other professionals seeking tax relief that it's the seventh-largest French city. Those expatriates choose not to use their creativity and investment capital to benefit France and its economy.
Senator Obama's plans to raise income, Social Security and capital-gains taxes amount to a belief that people don't react to punitive tax rates. If so, he needn't worry about people leaving the country and could let them pay taxes in whichever part of the globe they choose to live in. Once Americans are paying French-style tax rates, they ought to have the same freedom to move as Alain Ducasse.
Copyright 2008 - The Wall Street Journal